Can technology cure our vices?

What is the most irritating thing that you face as a driver? Is it the traffic jam on the way home? Or is it the sonorous drone that your passenger chooses to highlight their snores as you drive through the night? Or could it be the poor signage that makes finding your destination about as difficult as searching for Alladin’s lamp in Ali Baba’s cave?

While it may not be the single most irritating feature of driving, being tailgated is definitely up there with the most illustrious of the lot. In fact it’s so jarring that I seem to shoot off a diatribe once a year at the very least, which is saying a lot for a monthly column. I consider myself a good driver, nay, not just good, excellent. I may lack the edge of a professional race driver and the risk loving nature of a rally driver (I mean people who have actually competed, not the ‘real’ rally drivers that I meet in my profession). I’ve driven cars at insane speeds, or tricky courses and in pathetic conditions but have never been responsible for an accident. I know what my abilities are and can outmanoeuvre most drivers on the road.

What do you expect me to do when a tailgater then trundles up on my tail in a lift-kit SUV with his LED lights joining his high beams in eye watering symphony? I have one of three choices – ignore him (like I do most times), move aside and let the idiot bug someone else (on days I couldn’t be bothered) or let him overtake and then bug him with a little lightshow of my own. It actually feels worse when a regular car is tailgating you. Which brings me to the moron in a Tucson who tried it. Switch to plan C and he quickly learnt what it feels like to be light bullied.

I know its not unusual in the region or for that matter anywhere in the world. But you can’t argue that it is rather to o frequent for one’s liking in the GCC, where the perfect storm of money, easily acquired driving licence (or not), big and fast car and open roads brings out the tailgating monster.

Dubai’s RTA has even partnered with a technology provider to equip their taxis with sensors and a radio (currently in trial phase) that informs the driver to back off if they get too close to another vehicle. Can something like this solve the problem? I don’t think so. Big brother may be of some use if it comes with penalties and loss of liberty or money, but nothing can replace education and a sense of courtesy. The good old way was learning that you leave the overtaking lane for cars to overtake, you moved back into the slower lane once you overtook and you indicated with a large margin when you were in a hurry and just had to rush through the third lane.

Now hang on a minute, isn’t that how they drive on the autobahn? That’s the one place on Earth where you can’t find a slow car. It’s not as if accidents don’t happen there, but I’ve yet to meet my bête noire the tailgater there. You don’t need technology or radio-borne voices to learn to drive with a safe margin. That’s what a license is about. You learn to read the road, understand your vehicle, know what will happen when physics takes over when you lose control of your car and know that reaching the destination is far more important than charging through the minefield of today’s traffic to ‘almost’ reach home. It’s not that I don’t have too much faith in technology; it’s just that I am loaded up to my gunwales with an inherent distrust of human habit formation.

The only way a tailgater will change is when he finds his face mashed up in the boot of the car ahead. By then, it will be too late for him and perchance a few others on the road. And no amount of technology will help then.

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